Originally created 12/11/97

Kelley found guilty in murder



Larry Kelley was not just the duped boyfriend along for the ride. He was a murderer, a Richmond County Superior Court jury determined Wednesday.

And for participating in the murder of a Gulf War veteran, Army Staff Sgt. Kevin Spann, Mr. Kelley was sentenced to life in prison plus five years. The earliest he can make parole is in 14 years.

"As long as there's a breath of life in me, I will fight to keep this man in the penitentiary -- forever," said District Attorney Danny Craig. "I think that's the least a citizen can do for a person who has given his life in service to this country."

Seven months ago, a 16-year-old gunned down Staff Sgt. Spann, 35, when he answered a knock at his door. The soldier's widow, Gina Spann, 31, and her boyfriend, Mr. Kelley, 19, were arrested that night. Within a few hours, triggerman Matthew Piazzi, now 17, and Gerald Horne, 18, were also arrested.

The final suspect, Christopher Bargeron, 18 -- who introduced Mr. Kelley and Ms. Spann to the teens who killed Staff Sgt. Spann for money -- was also arrested.

With Mr. Kelley's conviction -- the jury deliberated less than one hour -- all of those responsible for Staff Sgt. Spann's murder are behind bars.

-- Ms. Spann, who faced capital murder charges, is serving a life sentence without parole plus five years. The murder was her idea because she wanted money, police said.

-- Mr. Kelley, the boyfriend who twice tried but failed to carry out Ms. Spann's murder plots, is now serving a life sentence.

-- Mr. Piazzi, the triggerman who agreed the night before the slaying to commit murder for $8,000, is serving a life sentence.

-- Mr. Horne, who also agreed to kill Staff Sgt. Spann for $7,000 and was present when the murder happened, is serving a life sentence.

-- Mr. Bargeron, who failed with Mr. Kelley to kill Ms. Spann's husband but did find Mr. Piazzi and Mr. Horne to do the slaying, is serving a five-year prison sentence to be followed by five years on probation.

The motive for the execution-style slaying was $300,000 in life insurance that Staff Sgt. Spann obtained with his wife as beneficiary, according to court testimony. The policies and a copy of his will were found in a briefcase in the trunk of Ms. Spann's car.

For a month, Ms. Spann convinced the teens to make four attempts on her husband's life. The youths failed until May 11.

Defense attorney Michael Garrett tried to convince the jury that Mr. Kelley had been dropped from the murder conspiracy because he twice failed to carry through on Ms. Spann's plots for her husband's demise.

"That evidence (to convict Mr. Kelley of both malice murder and felony murder) was just not there," Mr. Garrett said. "I think he was far less involved than Mr. Bargeron, who's only serving five years."

Mr. Craig disagreed. "I think it was obvious to the jury that this wasn't just a duped boyfriend, but a primary perpetrator of the crime. I think this jury was highly offended by the notion that a young gangster sat in judgment of a veteran of Desert Storm. ... I know I was."